In contrast to the more familiar melancholic vibe we sometimes associate with Sweden, the designer Gudrun Sjödén is about as cheerful an individual as it’s possible to meet, which comes over loud and clear in her clothes designs. She is vibrant, colourful and her curiosity had me feeling pretty dull and slovenly when we went to her 40th Anniversary exhibition, in Lund, Sweden last week. Over lunch, she told me how much she loved Instagram – she was way ahead of most brands in getting on social media and she is hardly ever parted from her mobile phone – and has used Facebook community for all her customer feedback – almost since its inception.
The exhibition is being held in the Kulturen Museum, (more of this place in a later post, it should definitely be on your weekend-destination list) and is joyously uplifting. 40 layered outfits from the archives to the present day track Gudrun’s love of travel and how she has used folk art from around the globe to inspire her work.
But one of the reasons we love Gudrun is what she stands for; expressing yourself through your clothes in a life-affirming manner, what ever your age, colour or size. She dresses women who, like her, are strong, confident and wouldn’t be seen dead in a grey trouser suit. She uses colour and pattern -she draws and paints all the prints – to celebrate life and bring cheer and happiness where ever possible -right up to a size 24. The top image is a dress-the-cut-out game for school children as part of the exhibition, which I loved for its inclusive vibe, not something you’d probably see at a Vogue event.
This all-embracing message has got her something of a controversial name in Sweden. Despite having an annual turnover of half a billion dollars and employing 230 staff, critics call her customers “Kulturtant’, a derogatory label that refers to women who work in libraries and like culture and creativity. Brightly coloured women dressing entirely for their own enjoyment seem to make some parts of society nervous, particularly if they are older or -sin of sins -are over a size twelve. Why is that?
The exhibition tackles this by interviewing some of Gudrun’s customer, who eloquently explain how they couldn’t give a toss about what anyone thinks of their style, they are just grateful to Gudrun for allowing them to express their true characters through her clothes. Is there an underlying misogyny in these criticisms? Gudrun is a hugely successful business woman, who has forged her own path but she told me that sometimes it was difficult being a woman in the Swedish business world, particularly at the beginning when no one took her and her creative approach to clothes seriously.
I say sod the critics, what do they know? if the clothes make you happy, then that’s really what counts and everyone who wears the Gudrun Look really has a good time with their clothes, and I’ve written before of what a dedicated following she has. It’s a little worrying how women can be so picked on for wanting to express them selves creatively, I just don’t get it, it’s like the moaning minnies who criticises the terrifically creative ladies of Advanced Style for daring to be so colourful and creative when they are passed 60, like we should all be quiet. And wear black.
Who wants to wear boring clothes when there’s so much fun to be had with colour and pattern? And Gudrun makes it easy.
Even if you aren’t a fan of Gudrun’s clothes, chances are you probably like the catalogues, of which there are around 6-8 a year and they are very inspiring. While at the exhibition I met the clothes stylist Monika Ekervik Hedman (right), the homes stylist Lisa Westrom (left) and the photographer Mats Widen (centre below), who race around the world shooting in remote places to get the best images, often using local props and jewellery to get a flavour of the area. I asked them to pose for a photo by sitting on the bench at the museum entrance, “Sit?’ said Mats, “we NEVER have time to sit usually!’
Gudrun Sjödén 40 Years in Fashion exhibition is on until March 2015, plenty of time to visit and Lund is really lovely, come back later this week and I’ll show you.